Tamara Berens

Can British Jewry unite against antisemitism?

Last summer the community was left in panic mode after the tide of antisemitism which surfaced in the wake of Operation Protective Edge. According to the Community Security Trust (CST), antisemitic incidents reached an all time high of 302 in the month of July 2014. Community leaders simply responded inadequately to this outpouring of Jew-Hatred by the media and the general public. British-Jewry were left feeling alone and scared, while the Board of Deputies only exacerbated the situation in making a joint statement with the Muslim Council of Britain. Three days after this statement was made, the newly formed grassroots organisation, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, rallied outside the Royal Courts of Justice to show their zero-tolerance approach to the rise of antisemitism. Heckles rang out amongst the crowds when the leaders of the Board of Deputies spoke. The CAA’s discourse seemed to reflect the sentiment of the community, while the Jewish establishment appeared detached and delusional. As a result, the community ended up appearing divided and disorientated.

The neo-nazi rally to be held on July the 4th in Golders Green will mark the first test of the unity and strength of the Jewish community since the ordeal of last summer and the disastrous way the establishment reacted. The form of Jew-hatred which previously did not seem threatening to us has been emboldened after an ‘insignificant’ protest by the neo-nazis went ignored in Hackney. Our inaction in the face of this fascist group evidently failed as they have decided to mount an even more confrontational protest- this time in the most Jewish area of the entire country, Golders Green. The Jewish Leadership Council believe that the right response involves indirect action, and they seek to counter the narrative of the neo-nazis through a positive campaign promoting social cohesion in the area, named Golders Green Together. Chairman Simon Johnson said he does not agree with drawing attention to the threat from the neo-nazis through being physically present at the protest on July the 4th, as ‘the group of neo-nazis do not deserve the attention given to them by these counter-demonstrations.’ Some feel that this does not recognise the aftermath of our inaction last time and that our inability to stand up to this ‘insignificant’ threat will have much greater repercussions later on. Others in the community have expressed a worry that if a mainstream group fails to respond on the day, the only opponents of the neo-nazis will end up being those on the extreme periphery of British politics, such as the UAF, Jewdas and the likes of George Galloway.

The open anti-semitism pedalled by the neo-nazi coalition planning to demonstrate and recent neo-nazi antisemitic acts prove that the threat from the far-right is indeed a cause for concern. Just over a month ago, a menorah in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham was vandalised by the neo-nazi group National Action, who then sought to glorify their hate crime with a video posted on YouTube. In light of this, campaign group the CAA felt that a direct response needed to be taken to this extremist threat and began extensive contact with the police to try and stop the demonstration on July the 4th from taking place. Nevertheless, even David Cameron and Theresa May’s interventions have to date not persuaded the authorities into invoking the Public Order Act and banning the protest. A source says the police continue to state they have to treat the CAA and the neo-nazi groups with ‘impartiality’.

The CAA therefore decided they want to mount a display of solidarity against the neo-nazis on July the 4th. Chairman Gideon Falter has said their aim is for the Jewish community to ‘stand together in dignified presence, unity and pride’. Many have said they feel the neo-nazis expect the community to be disgruntled, caught off guard or unable to attend due to Shabbat, and want to prove them wrong with their presence.

Meanwhile, some affiliated with the JLC’s Golders Green Together have proceeded to undermine the very tenets of their platform against the neo-nazis. Today, anti-semitism is most commonly manifested in the anti-zionist discourse of the left-leaning press, rather than in its old fashioned form. Therefore even in a protest which is perceived to be based on ancient, racially motivated antisemitism, it is essential that we remember the acute threat we as the Jewish community face from anti-Israel activity. The London Jewish Forum’s decision to enlist the support of Russell Brand, an open advocate of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) henceforth fundamentally undermines the concept of a zero-tolerance for antisemitism. Brand made statements regarding his decision to sign an anti-Israel petition last year which showed his views on the matter were strongly informed by well known anti-Zionist Noam Chomsky.

Members of the community have expressed shock at London Jewish Forum trustee Adam Cannon’s decision to enlist the support of George Galloway for Golders Green Together on twitter. He asked Galloway to retweet the campaign to his followers, saying that the decision to do so was spurred by Galloway’s condemnation of antisemitism on LBC. A man known for proudly declaring Bradford an ‘Israeli-free zone’ getting involved in fighting racism is clearly a farcical idea. In his live speech after losing his seat in this year’s general election, he chose specifically to focus on his anti-Israel views, equating ‘Zionists’ with ‘racists’. He has shown himself to be a rampant anti-Zionist and was seen in conflict with the Jewish community over his views earlier this year on Question Time.

A more worrying development includes the invitation extended by our opponents to the exact same person. Joshua Bonehill, a prominent figure among the neo-nazis, publicly declared on his website that he had invited George Galloway to be one of the main speakers at the rally. The focus of his speech would be the ‘Jewification of London and Israel’s grip over the West’, as well as ‘the impact of Jewry upon the Palestinian people’. It remains unclear what Galloway’s response to the invitation will be.

The Galloway debacle shows how important it is to be consistent in our methods and our criteria in terms of those who we stand with. Worryingly to some, Hope not Hate, the organisers of Golders Green Together, are involved with the trade union UNISON which notoriously backs BDS against Israel. UNISON boycotts all ties with Israel’s main trade union, the Histadrut. A spokesman for Hope not Hate declined to comment when prompted about BDS, which is defined broadly as an antisemitic movement. The neo-nazi coalition protesting have sensed the divisions among their opponents and have taken up anti-Israel narratives, which, aside from Bonehill’s invitation to Galloway, include reports that they intend to destroy Israeli flags and carry Palestinian ones. The failure of the community to consistently back the EUMC definition of anti-zionism and disproportionate criticism of Israel as antisemitism has proven itself to have serious implications.

The disunity that has ensued around July the 4th is deplorable. In order for our response to the neo-nazis to be coherent we must remain united. If the aim of the antisemites is solely to provoke and test us, we must show the strengths of our community rather than appear weak and divided. We must not repeat the mistakes of last summer and we must insist on zero-tolerance to antisemitism.

About the Author
Tamara Berens is a second year undergraduate student at Kings College London and a UK Campus Associate for CAMERA.